Colin Stevens drives into a cul-de-sac, searching for house number There's a light on downstairs, and two cars outside. He notes the number plates, does a U-turn, parks the car around the corner and waits.
He has pulled in by a hedge, a good, inconspicuous position, he says, because it is not on someone else's doorstep. The sky is still purple-black, and passers-by would have to strain to see the two benefit fraud investigators sitting in the front of the car. The men are responding to an anonymous tip-off to the national benefit fraud hotline. Someone, probably a neighbour or friend whom she's fallen out with, has alleged that the woman who lives here and who is claiming benefits as a lone parent is living with a partner.
If true, and particularly if that man is working, she is not entitled to most of the benefits she is receiving Claiming single parent living partner can be prosecuted.
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The fraud investigation service is here today for a preliminary check to see if the allegation appears justified; if it does, it will launch a formal investigation and a team member will arrange to be here every morning from 6. The good thing is that this is a cul-de-sac so there is only one way out.
If I see him coming out of this close then, effectively, I've seen him leave that address," Stevens says. He is keen to protect his anonymity and has asked for his surname to be changed. If there's a thick frost on the car then that would suggest that it's been there overnight. It also means that they have to scrape the frost off and that gives you a bit more time to do surveillance. Today is bin day, which is also useful, because you might see him bringing a bin out. Claiming single parent living partner
Light drizzle spatters at the windscreen. Bang on 7 o'clock. Almost too good to be true. It looks like the information was pretty good. Satisfied, he makes some notes and drives off to another address on a nearby estate.
This is the home of another Claiming single parent living partner mother, who is — according to an anonymous informant — also not living alone. This is a well-maintained estate, with neat grass verges, orange leaves swept away from the hedges, but the residents here are not rich, and most are on benefits, Stevens thinks.
He gets out of the car, dressed anonymously in white trainers, jeans and a black anorak, studies the two-storey brick ex-council house, now owned by a housing association, and is pleased to see a satellite dish.
This will be useful because he can check Claiming single parent living partner name the Sky subscription is registered to.
But if there's another adult living with them and working, they should declare it," he explains. If the woman is found to be living with someone who is working more than 16 hours a week, the household would lose income support and probably housing benefit, council tax benefit, free school meals, dental help, school uniform help and free prescriptions.
This man is thought to work for an IT company and Stevens notes down the telephone number painted on the side of a computer company van outside the house. The front room glows warm orange light, and a dark silhouette is visible fumbling at the net curtain, peering out at Stevens' car, which has paused momentarily outside.
He drives off quickly and back to the office. Tackling benefit fraud has become a high-profile mission for the new government. In an article last year, David Cameron wrote: The Department of Work and Pensions recently announced a zero-tolerance approach that would involve the recruitment of "another anti-fraud officers to sanction a further 10, fraudsters every year", and proposed introducing a "system for rewarding members of the public who provide information that results in significant recovery of public funds".
The previous government was also at pains to tackle benefit fraud, but something about the tone of the language used by the new administration has unsettled many poverty campaigners. Speaking about the need to make large cuts to welfare payments, Chancellor George Osborne has described the benefits bill as "completely out of control" and criticised those who made a "lifestyle choice to just sit on out-of-work benefits".
A "welfare cheat" was no different to a mugger who robs you on the street, he said. During Claiming single parent living partner comprehensive spending review in October, when he set out proposed cuts, he said: There is more of a focus on benefit fraud in the Department for Work and Pensions' plan than there is on tax fraud and Claiming single parent living partner in the Treasury plan, despite the fact that it is clearly a much smaller problem in terms of its cost.
Recent figures show that we now have the lowest levels of benefit fraud that we've ever had. There is an artful misrepresentation here; the suggestion is that the benefits bills is out of control because vast quantities of fraud is being committed by benefits claimants — so cutting the bill is just a question of tackling fraud. The cost is higher because more people are legitimately claiming benefits and because an ageing population is making the cost of pensions soar.
The government's language has the effect of "stigmatising the poor", it continues. The investigative skills of staff at the Tunbridge Wells fraud investigation service office have become much more sophisticated over the last couple of years.
Fraud manager Graham Smith sets out the equipment available to staff Claiming single parent living partner a harshly lit room above the town's Jobcentre, a room that has spectacular, panoramic views of prosperous Tunbridge Wells and the poorer suburbs, which tend to be the targets for surveillance.
He lays out a bottle of Oasis, a can of Pepsi Max, a brown leather Radley handbag and a grey nylon backpack. A minuscule film camera is hidden in each of these, used with a remote-control device the size of a cigarette packet that the investigator keeps in his pocket. The handbag has a pinprick-sized hole in the strap, concealing the lens, the Pepsi can unscrews to reveal the camera, which films through a hole the size of the dot of an i, in the small-print of the ingredients.
The bottle of Oasis is filled with pink liquid that you can shake around, visible above the label, but underneath there's a false bottom, hiding the camera. Staff choose the device depending on who they are following: But you can't just take it out anywhere.
You have to have permission, since the European Human Rights Act was implemented. You have to show the there is no other way of obtaining the evidence that you need. There are three different divisions of fraud control teams, a Claiming single parent living partner dealing with minor administrative errors, the general investigative team, and a specialist team looking for organised criminals.
The division in Tunbridge Wells is not using this surveillance to target sophisticated gangs, skilled at identity theft and organising fraud on a large scale, but is dealing with individual claimants and minor offences. She was receiving the highest rate of the allowance," he says.
There are snatches of film, each about a minute long, showing her walking briskly to the station, wearing high heels, walking up steps, getting out of her car. The investigators began following her in the winter, when she's wrapped in coats and scarves, on her way to work oblivious to the team of two or three people trailing her and resumed surveillance in the summer, when she's visible, Claiming single parent living partner in sunglasses, leggings and sleeveless tops, and still quite unaware that she is being followed, and filmed through a concealed camera, hidden in the strap of rucksack.
The person behind her is another investigator, following her. Another investigator followed her on the train," Stevens explains, talking through the film. We counted the number Claiming single parent living partner steps she walked down to get to the station.
There you can see her walking and texting at the same time. If you were unable to walk, you wouldn't be able to do that. She put on the form that she tripped over regularly. Not once did we see any evidence that she had a problem. Five or six investigators have been involved in this case, which Claiming single parent living partner stretched over a year, and will soon go to court.
Teams like this are working on similar cases all over the country. To an outsider, the work of the team raises uncomfortable questions. While it is obvious that fraud needs to be addressed, it is hard not to question the cost benefit of investing this heavily in one case.
Equally, the focus on setting up dawn surveillance operations on single parents who are suspected of living with someone feels disproportionately draconian.